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Like the story as a whole, the still-frame cutscenes are a simplistic means to an end.
While the more recent Grand Theft Auto videogames all focus on expansive 3D worlds, GTA: Chinatown Wars steps back in time to the series’ 2D roots. Surprisingly enough--and in spite of its forgettable narrative--it’s more refreshing and brilliant than we ever would’ve imagined.
Cars control like a dream, even without the optional assists on.
What shocked us more than that, though, is the way Chinatown Wars embraces the impressive size of Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City, rather than dumbing it down. That means you end up with a massive open-world playground and exploration that’s rich with variety. The diverse missions aren’t just built for portability--they keep touch capabilities firmly in mind as well. The punchy objectives are great for short bursts of car-thieving and gunfighting, though the immense level of creativity in our assignments had us hooked for longer-than-expected stretches. Both big-bang missions and the subtler but more time-intensive objectives are equally memorable. Two favorites are busting buddies out of a SWAT truck with explosives (and the high-speed pursuit that followed) and using a humongous crane to dump cars into the ocean. Even some smaller moments stick out as excellent ideas--for instance, using the touchscreen to assemble pieces of a gun or unscrew a wire panel before hotwiring a car. That’s genius.
The faux analog-stick works, but it sometimes slips out of your grasp.
Chinatown Wars only really falls flat over its virtual-thumbstick and touchscreen button controls. We sometimes ended up dead or busted because the movement “stick” would periodically pop back to center during a routine getaway, which suddenly immobilized our itty-bitty criminal. It’s a small complaint in the grand scheme of things, however, because it happened so infrequently.
Short on cash? Shotgun a civilian.
On the other hand, vehicles always felt great--a rarity for GTA--and we appreciate that the e-brake involves a finger-sliding technique, instead of adding another button to an already cluttered screen. In fact, the HUD feels pretty busy until you crash through the first couple hours of tutorials. After that, the user interface becomes simpler, and filtering through emails on your PDA, pulling up directions on the GPS, and hot-swapping from billy club to boomstick is as easy and effective as managing your, um, other goods.
Even on a plain ol’ 3G, Chinatown Wars runs without a hitch, and at $10,
you’d be silly not to give in to Rockstar’s criminal adventure. It’s
tailored perfectly for portability and brilliantly engineered for brief
or extended playtime. Chinatown Wars isn’t just one of the best iPhone
and iPod touch game available--it’s one of the best portable games we’ve
Dealin’ drugs in Chinatown Wars is its own kind of addiction.
We loved the barreling through Liberty City with the pedal to the metal and a pistol out the window, but it’s the drug dealing that really had us captivated. We became obsessed with the extremely profitable objective of slinging illicit contraband to various dealers scattered about town. The buy-low, sell-high economy of it makes it easy to get distracted from the story. And because drugs occasionally play a role in the game’s story missions--the “ordinary son of a Triad boss stumbles into a life of crime” story is, by far, the series’ weakest in recent memory--the risky business is also an essential aspect of your 15- to 30-hour stint in Liberty City.